Saturday, October 9, 2010

Lon Chaney-Man of 1,000 Faces


The silent film start began his career in 1913 as an extra at Universal Studios earning $3.00 per day. Chaney faithfully brought his leather make-up kit each day so he could play any character the studio needed. Chaney played over 150 different roles from 1913 to 1930. He later wrote the article on move make-up featured in the 1929 Encyclopedia Britannica.


Chaney said of his diverse roles, "The parts I play point out a moral. They show individuals might have been different if they had been given a different chance."


Chaney often took incredible measures to create his characters. For his sole vampire role in London After Midnight (1927) he inserted fish hooks in his cheeks and used wire around his eyes to achieve a corpse-like leer. Chaney pulled back his eyes and nose with spirit gum and used cotton and collodian to broaden his cheeks in order to create the Phantom's skeletal appearance for Phantom of the Opera (1925). Chaney wore a 50 pound hump to portray Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Norte Dame.


His friend, Boris Karloff said of Chaney, "No one suffered as much as he did to bring a tragic, poignant quality to his roles."

5 comments:

  1. Wow, acting was a dangerous job in the old days. Buster Keaton (old Stone Face) took a lot of risks to perform his own stunts too. Almost like today's reality shows, where people will do almost anything to get on camera!

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  2. Yep, that's who I thought it was:) Great post!

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  3. Enjoyed the post. I had no idea he went to so much trouble and (pain) to become the paranormal creature we see on screen.

    Now that's dedication.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  4. What's also amazing is that Chaney's only speaking role was his last film. Though
    Chaney had an established body of work, one can't help but wonder what else he might have done if he had not died at the age of 47.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. While I very much appreciate the write-up, some of what you've stated here is simply not true. I'm sure that this is due to no fault of your own, as you were, most likely, misinformed.

    I earned approximately $5 per day, a significant sum, during my early years as an uncredited player at Universal Film Manufacturing Company. Back then, my makeup case consisted of a metal lunchbox containing a few theatrical basics. Later, when my makeups became more elaborate, I switched to carrying a leather toolbox. It enabled me to pack more and sort various items in their own compartments for convenience.

    As for The Man in the Beaver Hat, the prongs that lifted the corners of my mouth were built into my upper denture. As much as I love fishing, I would not put those sharp hooks into my cheeks and strongly advise against it. I did, however, fashion and insert wire hoops into my eye sockets, much like I did for my role as Erik The Phantom. My makeup for Erik varied, depending on the shot and lighting. Naturally, the closer and sharper the focus, the more detailed my character's appearance had to be.

    Quasimodo's hump was made of plaster and cotton. It weighed less than 10 lbs. It was the rubber bodysuit I wore that added a significant amount of weight. Still, I don't think that it added 50 lbs. My back gave me trouble, from time to time. It would've been foolish to carry anymore weight than absolutely necessary.

    Again, thank you kindly for the article. Karloff was a good Joe and I enjoyed giving him lifts to and from work, when I could. But that quote sounds more like it came from a studio publicity department than the actor I knew. Still, I'm sure that he had nice things to say. He was a real gentleman.

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